Can Young-Blood Therapy Reduce the Signs of Aging in Humans?

The Snopes-disproved legend of Keith Richards swapping out his blood after a night of hard partying for that of a younger man may not sound so far-fetched in the future, if recent studies are to be believed.

Young-blood therapy—“parabiosis”—works in mice, no question about it. Multiple experiments conducted at Harvard and elsewhere within the last five years have found that blood transfused from young mice into old ones had a rejuvenating effect. The old mice grew peppier. They  performed better on memory tests. Their fur grew sleek and lustrous. Something in that new, rich plasma was healing and repairing aging organs by activating dormant stem cells. No one knows which among hundreds of goodies in the young blood—circulating proteins, growth factors, immune-system boosters—might be responsible, or whether whatever mechanism is at work could also work in humans.

But that hasn’t stopped research from moving to the human-experiment stage. If you’re over 35 you can be part of a clinical trial run by the U.S. National Institute of Health and receive blood from a donor between 16 and 25 years old to see if and how it spruces you up. In a separate study going on at Stanford, Alzheimer’s patients receive young-blood transfusions to see if it stems cognitive decline. The endgame is to isolate the magic active ingredient in the blood serum and sell it in a pill.

There’s a what’s-old-is-new-again dimension in all this. The idea of young blood as an elixir goes back to ancient Greece. The difference now is the potential customer. It used to be the poor, who, unable to procure expensive medicine, would slip the executioner a few pennies for a cup of blood. Now only the rich, such as PayPal founder and Trump booster Peter Thiel, can afford to roll the dice on this life hack. The NIH trial, sponsored by the Monterey-based company Ambrosia LLC, costs $8,000 (U.S.) to participate in.

Check back for more from VanMag‘s 25 Ways to Live Forever package (our March 2017 cover story!) to learn about the myriad ways Vancouverites chase the dream of eternal youth.